I remember my first sip of Johnnie Walker. How could I forget?! It horrifies me to say that it was about 20 years ago (I am 27) – Before you get all riled up about my folks parenting skill – they didn’t know. I was that curious little kid who couldn’t understand why you would only pour yourself a few sips of ‘cool-drink’, and what was so delicious about it. Sitting in the San Lameer Hotel restaurant with my old man, appetiser in my hand and a glass of Johnnie’s finest in my fathers, I waited for him to head off to the gents. It took me a while, but eventually I plucked up the courage and quickly took a gulp. Needless to say my father arrived back to me coughing my lungs out and whisky coming through my eyes & nose, not a pleasant scene. I can say, that it was a good few years before I dared try this again.
I believe whisky to have a very discerning taste, something that does not suite every pallet. I also believe, that if a man doesn’t drink whisky, he cannot be trusted. I find myself surrounded by a tight knit group of friends with a similar taste for life. Birds of a feather drink whisky together, or something of the sorts. It is on this premise that Our Chief Editor at Black Ivory Magazine decided it was time to spend some time with Johnnie, a sunny Friday afternoon at Black Ivory head-quarters overlooking a magnificent garden and surrounded by great company!
This, however, was so much more than ‘just a couple of friends and colleagues sharing a bottle of Johnnie’s finest, we were fortunate enough to have one of Johnnie Walker’s brand ambassadors, Siya, to walk us through the history, production and processes that go into the Johnnie Walker brand. I have experienced many brandy, wine and whisky tastings, and none have come close to this experience. Aside for the Whisky being the preferred choice of the group, Siya, an easy going guy with good taste in whisky and even better knowledge about it, was an instant with the team. Having spent copious amounts of time at the distilleries in Scotland and trained by the very best in the world, he flawlessly answers every question, and conveys his passion for this special drink.
The scene is set and the excitement grows as Siya begins to setup, an exquisite table that is complemented by elegant JW branded glasses, ice coolers, coaster stands and a somewhat fitting small ‘shrine’ type podium that will hold the ‘special guests’ for the evening. The group’s excitement builds and a few of us watch Siya like a hawk watches its prey as he pulls out the very familiar Red Label, Black Label (most popular amongst the group), Double Black, Green Label, Gold Label Reserve (Smiles appear on a few faces), Platinum 18 Year Old (Must be Christmas) and the VIP of the day, Mr. Blue Label himself. What. A. Treat.
Our journey begins where it all began for Johnnie Walker, the famous Red Label. The pioneer of the brand. JW Red Label is a blended scotch, consisting of about 35 grain and malt whiskies. A bold flavour, very distinctive – this must be why it’s the number one selling Scotch whisky around the world. Sipping neat on this can be rather over powering to the newcomer, I would advise adding a splash of water to soften the ‘in your face’ flavour. Also enjoyed with soda water or in a cocktail for the ladies. Definitely one of the best entry level Whiskies and great if you are a new found whisky fan. The group listens eagerly as Siya talks about the whisky and various facts about the brand.
Strong waft of alcohol, slight peat and toffee undertone
Initially sweet, followed with a deep peat and ginger tone
The sensation of slight peat and sweetness lingers, followed by slight warmth
The group is keen to taste the personal favourite, Johnnie Walker Black Label. Certainly one of the most recognised and appreciated of the range. JW Black Label is also a Scotch blend, of about 40 crafted whiskies, with none less than 12 years old. JW Black Label has an unmistakably smooth & refined character about it. The perfect balance to be fully enjoyed neat, on the rocks or with a splash of water. My first sip is rewarded with a familiar taste, a pleasant warming sensation that allows all the complexities of the notes to come through. This is definitely one of the standard favourites amongst the group as we all ask for a second ‘taste’ – not just because we wanted more… ok it is and what a pleasure to drink!
A touch of vanilla, followed by gentle peat, sea salt air and a hint of fresh orange rinds.
Very smooth, with a touch of cinnamon, caramel, toasted almonds, brown sugar, malt & slight spiciness.
Peat and smoke with a subtle infusion of black licorice,
This one has the groups interest, never tried by any of us before, we are all eager to greet this dark stranger. Slightly darker in hue with a host of aromas, the Double Black does not let us down! It has the refined smoothness and body of the Black Label, though it does not have the sweetness and spiciness. If you enjoy the smooth flavour of Black Label, then the Double Black will definitely tickle your taste buds! It has a much deeper taste, though perhaps too deep of a taste for some of the group.
Strong oncoming, yet subtle sweet. Very peaty, pinewood fire & smokey.
Smooth, far more body, with a wooden smoke, citrus note.
wood smoke, sherry warmth with the flavour still hovering on the palette.
Another first for the group, one of the newer colours to the brand, A fine blend which utilises four malts “drawn from the four corners of Scotland.” Each of the malts (Talisker, Linkwood, Cragganmore, and Caol Ila) is matured for a minimum of 15 years. This definitely comes through in the flavour. Incredible richness and smoothness. Much sweeter than the Black or Red labels yet not as smokey as the Double Black.
Apple blossoms, citrus notes, oak, malty.
spiced honey with sherry sweetness. Gentle peat after tone.
Faint sherry note with raspberries, inkling of Cuban cigars.
Gold Label Reserve
I remember having the Johnnie Walker Gold 18 Year old a long while back and I remember it being smooth and rich. JW has since removed the date on the bottle hence not restricting them to which whisky blends to use. The new Gold Label Reserve is based on the same Clynelish single malt as Gold Label 18-year-old, but it has a less peaty profile with a blend of 15 single malts, all bottled between 15 -18 years. The group is intrigued and some request a second taste as it is so very smooth and creamy! I feel like it has come out tasting like sweet honey! This has fast become the group favourite.
Chopped mint, sea air and peat.
Sweet with a subtle blossom undertone, peaty flavour lingering.
Malty and oaky with slight floral notes. Incredibly smooth & sweet.
Platinum Label 18 Years
Mains are served! This is what I have been waiting for. Needless to say I have not been let down! I have found my preferred whisky. Though, being in the sort of league that it is in, it will be on occasions only! This private blend of 18 year old ensures that you are getting the finest and most renowned whisky you could ask for. A slight spiciness and fruity taste makes for great enjoyment. As smooth as a babies bottom. Best Enjoyed neat. Only if you must, I would recommend a separate glass of water to refresh the palate before the next sip, a sip that is savoured and enjoyed long after the glass is empty! JW have outdone themselves on this Platinum Label. Enough to blow the mind of a novice and settle the palate of a connoisseur. Did I mention how smooth this is?
Sherry, oak, chocolate fondue, mint & Spice, Smooth.
Blood oranges, sherry, rosewater, dark plums, raspberries.
Salt, very subtle smoke and grapes. Hint of spice.
All good things come to those who wait. Siya holds the full attention of the group as he opens this very special, incredibly rare bottle. The crème de la crème of the JW brand. For good reason too! JW Blue Label is an incredible blend made from some of Scotland’s rarest and most exceptional whiskies and is an unrivaled masterpiece. Some have been boasted as old as 40 years, where the distilleries are no longer around. This truly encompasses the signature taste of Johnnie Walker. Every last detail has been taken into account, from the elegant, silk lined box packaging, to the opaque crafted bottle and unique cask serial number. This allows the user to track the very origins of this flawless Scotch blend. I must insist on this being served neat! There is no need what so ever to water this fine specimen down (Unlike one of my savage colleagues who bastardises his glass with water –Something we will never let him forget!) JW Blue Label is also world famous for being one of the finest, most prestigious blended scotch whiskies in the world – And makes for an impressive gift! HINT HINT!
Perfume, peat, smoke and fresh bread. Smooth and tingling on the nose.
Full bodied and yet still smooth. Not as smooth as the Platinum label in my opinion, but the host of flavours comes through with every sip. Smooth, rich, corona cigar smoke, slight spice malty background.
It does not hover on your palate like some of the other labels. Flavours of smoke, very restrained peat, malt, fresh chopped mint leaves, faint peppercorns
My whisky knowledge and appreciation for the Johnnie Walker brand has grown substantially! I have learned so much from this experience, this article gives you but a small taste (See what I did there?) of what to expect. The combination of a selection of world class whiskies, accompanied by the most knowledgeable insight from our whisky connoisseur and JW Brand Ambassador Siya, ensured that the whole team at Black Ivory had an unforgettable experience. Needless to say, we are all in awe of the meticulous precision, passion and craftsmanship that goes into creating these fine whiskies.
This was not the first time, or the last, that a group of friends, colleagues or strangers would get together over a glass of Johnnie Walker Blended Scotch Whisky. My old man would be proud!
Some Fun Facts
Whisky Temperature: This can have a profound effect on flavour and ‘mouthfeel’ – literally how the whisky feels in your mouth. Well-chilled Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve has a texture like honey, while Johnnie Walker Double Black gently warmed in a Bain Marie has an earthy warmth reminiscent of freshly flambéed fig pudding.
A good whisky will spark comparisons with a whole range of flavours and scents you have experienced before. These will be highly personal and unique to you. There is no wrong or right. Comparing the flavours you discover with those of your friends is one of many of the joys drinking whisky.
Best Way to Drink
The simplest way to enjoy your whisky is neat, cleaning your palate with cool water between sips. Many people also add water to their whisky, which can open up the flavours as the liquids combine. Try this, but remember the old adage: “you can add, but you can’t take away”. Too much water can spoil a whisky and ‘flatten’ its layers of flavour.
Whiskey or Whisky?
In Scotland, Canada, Japan and other parts of the world, it is spelled without the ‘e’, while in the US and Ireland it is more commonly spelled with an ‘e’. The main differences between types of whisky are down to three things: the grain used; the production process; where the whisky was made; and how long it was matured for.